He’s in You, Acoustic Style: Peter Frampton Comes Back to Life with a New Tour

We caught up with the British guitar god ahead of his new Peter Frampton Raw acoustic tour.

Mar 9 2016, 4:23pm

Collage by Kelly McGovern

Music has a way of recycling itself, muddling the authenticity of what was once classic. But there's one type of recording that has no choice but to strip away the effects and technology, only leaving raw talent and authenticity to prove an artist's worth: the art of the live album.

The beauty of a live performance is that it's one of the most genuine ways to connect with a listener. Fans' love for live rock concerts led to the concept of bands recording live albums, and the late 60s and 70s were the golden age of the live album. From the raw tones to the in-the-moment energy, the format offers a bit of that front-row thrill. If you could catch that lightning in a bottle and sell it, you'd be a billionaire—and if you could catch it on a record, you're probably Peter Frampton.

1976's Frampton Comes Alive! was Peter Frampton's first live album, and his fifth solo, following 1975s Frampton. While he took a cue from Humble Pie, who found success with a live album after their most successful studio album at the time, the electrifying Frampton Comes Alive! crossed over generations and genres, and remains one of the top-selling albums of all time.

Forty years later, bands are still striving to find that level of a connection with fans, to capture that magic, intimacy, and authenticity on a live or even acoustic album. Frampton is poised to bring that nostalgia back with a refreshing twist via his acoustic album release Acoustic Classics, and his first-ever acoustic tour, Peter Frampton Raw.

Frampton's love of music started at the age of seven after discovering his grandmother's banjolele in the attic and teaching himself to play. By the age of 12, Frampton had taking classical music lessons, and found inspiration in artists such as Django Reinhardt, Jimi Hendrix, and Buddy Holly—the latter, Frampton would play alongside David Bowie while on lunch at London's Bromley Technical School. In 1969, 18-year-old Frampton co-founded Humble Pie, and it was a few years later, with his first solo release Wind of Change, that the songwriter/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist started to make the talk box his signature guitar effect.

Dozens of albums and collaborations later brought him to Acoustic Classics, mixed by Grammy Award-winning engineer Jeff Balding and produced by Frampton himself. It's a treasure-trove of stripped-down versions of his classic hits. There's "I'm In You," with Frampton on guitar, bass and piano, and "Show Me The Way," complete with the talk box. Of course "Baby, I Love Your Way," and "Do You Feel Like I Do" make an appearance, as well as less popular gems like "Fig Tree Bay" and one new song, "All Down to Me," which was co-written by his regular collaborator Gordon Kennedy, co-producer of Frampton's Grammy Award-winning album Fingerprints.

The 65-year-old rocker hits the road to promote the album March 9 for Peter Frampton Raw: An Acoustic Tour, joined by Kennedy and Frampton's son, singer/guitarist Julian Frampton. One of the shows will be broadcast on AXS later this year, and possible second acoustic album are being considered. But Frampton, who will be on the road this summer with his band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Gregg Allman, is also looking forward to plugging back in for his next album.

Noisey: So where did you get the idea to do an acoustic tour?
Peter Frampton
: I suggested it to myself and turned myself down many years ago. I knew it had to be small in terms of venue, like a large living room type of deal, and also tour size; it's just 13 shows. I was very nervous coming out the first night, and by the time I came off, I said I want to do more of these. Originally we just wanted to do an hour and half, but the first show was one hour and 50 minutes because we talk so much. It's sort of like Storytellers and Unplugged rolled into one. It made me smile as soon as I realized that the show wasn't going too badly. I was enjoying myself immensely—I loved it.

Why do you think Frampton Comes Alive! still speaks to people?
Without knowing it, it was a magical performance that night. Everyone was in tip-top playing shape for that entire album really, and it was phenomenal. It was the first time we headlined that amount of people in San Francisco for the bulk of the album. In hindsight, if you were going to capture one night, you would've captured this night. And we did.

What's something you know now that you wish you knew during the aftermath of Frampton Comes Alive!?
The expectation of a certain amount of success was there, because the album previous, Frampton, had outsold all the other albums. So we thought, well we gained an audience by touring and we're seeing the reflection in the sales of the Frampton record. We expected the same thing possibly that happened with Humble Pie. After their most successful studio album at the time, called Rock On, they did a live album. We thought if we were going to do a live album, that was the time. The audiences were bigger, but the record sales weren't going up. People wanted a live point of view.

While recording Acoustic Classics, what song in particular was a challenge?
When I first started recording in the studio, I came in later and listened to the fist couple I did. And I missed the band. It just didn't sound right. It wasn't the right performance. I wanted to hear myself play them and feel like it was the first time I'd written it; when I feel the connection the listener does too. I wanted to draw you in and to be much more personal. So the majority of the recording was a challenge.

In feeling challenged like that, did that make you feel the itch to write new music?
I write all the time, and I pick up a guitar a few times a day. I get an idea and record it on my iPhone. I recorded some of this album after the first leg of the acoustic tour, on the East coast with my son Julian. I came back more inspired, and that's when I wrote the new track on the record.

When do you first know that your son was going to be a musician?
When he asked me for a set of drums when he was 9 or 10. I got him a starter set of drums and that was very noisy. But he was very good, very quickly. Then later on, I had given him a guitar and one day he said 'Hey, Dad, listen," and he was about 14. He played me a song he had written and I said, "Here we go!" [laughs]. He's a very good writer and excellent singer. I will give him the best review possible since I'm his dad, but he's talented. It's tough to get started in the music industry now.

You mentioned recording on your iPhone. Do you feel like with all the technology nowadays, music has lost some of its mystique?
Technology, in the end, has ruined music in many ways. Yes, ruined it. As soon as that Napster guy came out, that was the beginning of the end. Instead of the record companies putting their arm around him and saying, "Come with us, young man," they fought against it and lost. Now everything is streaming and everything is free. Now you put out music to promote a tour. It used to be you do a tour to promote an album.

Lastly, here's a fun one: who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Django Reinhardt, with a translator. Maybe we should have Mother Theresa there as well? That's a loaded question. Who else… it might be a bit of a heavy conversation, but Einstein might be good! So science and religion, right there, that's good. Let's have one more; did I say Jimi Hendrix?

Catch Frampton on the Peter Frampton Raw acoustic tour this month—the short run of dates kicks off today in Tucson, AZ's Fox Tucson Threatre.

3/9 - Tucson, AZ @ Fox Tucson Theatre
3/10 - Phoenix, AZ @ Orpheum Theatre
3/12 - Thousand Oaks, CA @ Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
3/13 - Riverside, CA @ Fox Performing Arts Center
3/15 - Carmel, CA @ Sunset Center
3/16 - San Francisco, CA @ Herbst Theatre
3/18 - Folsom, CA @ Harris Center for the Arts
3/20 - Eugene, OR @ John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts
3/22 - Redding, CA @ Cascade Theatre
3/23 - Arcata, CA @ John Van Duzer Theatre
3/25 - Portland, OR @ Revolution Hall
3/26 - Tacoma, WA @ Pantages Theater

Lauren Wise is alive on Twitter.